By: Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall - Presented By Frank 106.3 Frank FM
October 01, 2013

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R.R. Marshall: Steve, after listening all week to the detractors saying the 3-0 record was hollow due to the lack of quality opponents, the Patriots came away with a big 30-23 win on the road in Atlanta on Sunday night to remain undefeated. Have they finally silenced their critics?

Steve Grogan: I would think they've silenced their critics. Although, I know some people will say that Atlanta had some of their key players out of the line-up, not playing last night. But you have look at the Patriots, who had the same situation with some of their players out of the line-up and then they lost Vince Wilfork fairly early in the game and still went on to win. So I would hope it would quiet the critics. It was a really nice effort by everybody Sunday night I thought.

RRM: One thing that they can't complain about is that they didn't face a quality quarterback as they did the first three weeks because Matt Ryan is among the elite class of NFL quarterbacks right now.

SG: Yeah Matt Ryan, he's right in his prime and has been playing pretty good football. They shut him down Sunday night. They didn't let him really dictate what he wanted to do, outside of throwing the ball to Tony Gonzalez. I thought the defensive secondary maybe played as good a game as they've played in several years.

RRM: Overall, what was more impressive to you, the fact that the Patriots' "no name offense" scored a season high 30 points, or that the defense pulled out a game, as you mentioned, without Vince Wilfork and made several key clutch stops in the red zone along the way?

SG: I think to me, the most impressive thing was the way they shut down Atlanta, particularly their passing game. They've got a couple of really good wide receivers, granted one was hurt a little bit. They didn't get much pressure on Ryan Sunday night, but the coverage was excellent down the field. I just haven't seen that from a Patriots secondary in quite a while.

RRM: Speaking of that Patriots secondary, Aqib Taib really stood out in this game, shutting down the dangerous Julio Jones every time he was on him in one-on-one coverage. Was that as impressive a performance as you've seen by an individual Patriots defensive back in some time?

"He really was what they were calling him before, a lock-down corner Sunday night. He made some great plays, was just all over the wide receivers and played I think as good a game as he's played as a Patriot." - Steve Grogan on Aqib Talib
(USA TODAY Images)

SG: Yeah, he really was what they were calling him before, a lock-down corner Sunday night. He made some great plays, was just all over the wide receivers and played I think as good a game as he's played as a Patriot. I know Chris Collinsworth kept talking about him getting a big contract next time around, well, I think he's going to be worth it. Hopefully for the Patriots, but somebody, because this kid can play cornerback like nobody I've seen in a while.

RRM: As you mentioned the Patriots didn't have a lot of success against future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez who torched them, I lost count after a dozen catches and two touchdowns. Granted, they had to give something up to cover those dangerous wideouts, so do you just tip your helmet to a great start tight end, or do you have to rethink your tight end coverage down the line if you should run into a player of his quality again?

SG: I think you just tip your hat and say, 'we weren't going to let them beat us deep, we weren't going to let them make the big plays, we're going to let them throw the ball to Gonzalez all night,' and that's what they did and they got away with it. So I think that was a game plan and it worked out pretty well.

RRM: I'd just like to point out that on a number of those catches, he wasn't exactly wide open, but the little crevices they found over linebackers' shoulders and defensive backs' hands, the guy just came up with the ball time after time.

SG: He's a phenomenal pass catcher as a tight end and even when he's got people draped on him, he's making catches. So I think they have to feel, even though he had double-digit catches, I think they have to be happy about the way they played against him, even last night.

RRM: Well, as you mentioned the news about Vince Wilfork was not good, lost for the season with a torn Achilles Tendon and the defensive line was thin to begin this year. Is this one injury that the Patriots are going to have a whole lot of difficulty overcoming if they want to get back to the Super Bowl this year?

SG: It's going to be interesting to see. When you lose a guy of his caliber, it's usually devastating to most defenses. But Bill Belichick and his staff seem to have a way of putting someone else in there and figuring out how to get the most out of them when you lose somebody like that. So I'm not giving up on that position yet. I know he's a great player and a huge part of their defensive scheme, but I think they've got some guys they can plug in there who can get the job done.

RRM: I'm sure you noticed the Patriots made a concerted effort to run the ball in that first half and not only were they successful at it, but I believe what it did was really slow down that Falcons' pass rush and Brady was essentially able to do whatever he wanted to in the air for the last three quarters of that game?

SG: For old school guys like me, it's kind of fun to watch an offensive line come off the ball and just jam it down the other team's throats. It's the way the game is supposed to be played, it takes the pressure off the passing game, I just wish they could do that every week.

RRM: For the second time in four games, Brady had a key fumble on a snap in a big situation, this time on a 4th and one that could have wrapped the game up. As they say, 'once is a mistake, but two is starting a trend.' What exactly is going on with the center exchange?

SG: Not real sure what the problem is there. It looks to me like he's trying to get out from under the center a little quicker than he needs to, but you'd have to ask Bill Belichick and he's probably not talking about that right now. But it's definitely a concern that has to be taken care of.

RRM: We have to give Atlanta coach Mike Smith a couple of pats on the back. He came up with a couple of strange decisions, declining to kick the field goal early in the game and going for it on a fourth down that wasn't even close, turning down three points that could have been valuable. And then to try a second consecutive onside kick with well over two minutes left in the game I thought was also another curious choice. Do these moves come from being 1-2 and playing under the pressure of a Sunday night situation? It seemed like more of a move of desperation to me than anything else?

SG: I would say it was probably desperation. He knows how good the Patriots are, he knows how good Bill Belichick is, and I just feel like he probably panicked a little bit and tried some things he didn't need to try at that particular time in the game. He's a good football coach and he's got a good football team and he just, for some reason, didn't trust them in those situations.

RRM: It's starting to look like wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins might be a keeper in this league, six catches for over a hundred yards and a touchdown. Have you seen a gradual progression from him over the four weeks?

SG: I've seen him playing with more confidence. I think he had a couple of drops Sunday night that he wishes he could have back. But he's starting to make some big plays for them and I think that's a good sign. So his confidence level is getting better every week, and I think Brady's confidence in him is getting better every week.

RRM: There was a news report and apparently confirmed by Peter King on Monday morning that the Patriots had cleared Rob Gronkowski to play in this game on Sunday night, but he felt he was not ready and it almost seems like there's a possible flap going on between the team medical people and his own medical people. You don't hear about stuff like this with the Patriots so I was wondering what your take on this was?

SG: That really is something you don't hear about with the Patriots and of course, something you didn't hear about years ago. You just, if the team cleared you to play, you played. Nowadays everybody's got their own doctors and people they talk to. So hopefully they'll get this worked out, but it can be a divisive thing when the team doctors have cleared you to play and you decide not to play because your guy has told you not to. That's not a good thing.

RRM: We know that this information didn't come from the Patriots' side, so it's clear that somebody in Gronkowski's camp leaked this, and that alone is against Bill Belichick's, "keep everything from the press" attitude and flies right in his face. The last time something like this happened, he suspended Wes Welker for making fun of Rex Ryan. Wes ended up in Denver, and you just have to kind of wonder if this is a bad sign for the Patriots' future relationship with Gronkowski?

SG: I think it's too early to tell that, but it's a possibility. I think Bill understands Gronkowski's kind of a different kind of kid anyway, he's already had some brushes with trouble in his first few years here, but hopefully they'll get it worked out. It may be a misunderstanding, it may be...who knows? Until we get more facts there's not to a lot you can really say about it.

RRM: I was talking to somebody a while back. Football players in your day were just chomping at the bit to get back out on the field and I just can't imagine, "you're cleared to play," "No, I think I'm going to take another couple of weeks coach."

SG: That wouldn't have gone over too well back in my day.

RRM: Well, next week the Patriots are on the road for the second straight week to take on the Cincinnati Bengals that are favored to win the division this year but are having some trouble and are coming off, just what can only be classified as, a horrendous loss to the Browns. Old Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer did the Pats a big favor bumping them off, but you would think playing at home against these Bengals, probably not the best thing facing them coming off a double digit defeat?

SG: Probably not. Cincinnati, I know, has some good offensive weapons. They've got the Law Firm [BenJarvus Green-Ellis] running the ball for them out there, so you would think they can put points on the board. This will be another challenge for the defensive secondary. It's never easy to go into a place like Cincinnati and try to win, particularly after they've had a loss the week before. But they did it in Atlanta, there's no reason they can't do it in Cincinnati too.

RRM: Do you expect to see the same game plan? Run, run, run the ball?

SG: I think you'll see more of the running game this year because of the fact you've got wide receivers that are young, you've got no tight end, I think you'll see them stay on the ground a lot more than we have in the past.

RRM: So what are Grogan's Grades for the fantastic 30-23 win over the Falcons Sunday night?

SG: I'd have to go with A's all around this week. I thought everybody played really well, above average, excellent performance. It was fun to watch them play that kind of football. Hopefully they can keep it up.

Grogan's Grades For Week 4:

Offense: A
Defense: A

Overall: A